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Canada  

What's for dinner?

The vast majority of Canadians believe genetically modified foods should have to be labelled at the grocery store, according to a new study, which a researcher says shows most consumers are confused about the science behind their dinner plates.

In a recent survey, researchers at a Halifax university found that nearly 90 per cent of Canadians expressed some degree of support for mandatory labelling of genetically modified ingredients, but most respondents were unsure whether they had purchased an engineered food product.

Participants were split about whether the health effects of GM foods are fully understood, according to the study, which reflects the lack of understanding among consumers, said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

"Most Canadians are confused about the safety health effects of genetically modified foods in general," Charlebois said. "That's really the one thing that came out. If you compare different results ... there were contradictions from one question to another."

Charlebois said the technology has been around for more than two decades, and it's estimated that more than three-quarters of all food products sold in Canada contain at least one GM ingredient.

Most research into the safety of GM products, which has been largely funded by food producers and affirmed by independent analyses, has concluded that the technology has not been linked to health risks, said Charlebois.

In an effort to refute these findings, he said anti-GM groups have mobilized to wrest control of the public narrative and "demonize" the technology.

At the centre of this "highly polarized" issue, Charlebois said consumers have been left not knowing who to believe, or left out of the debate altogether.

"What's driving policy right now is this fear of scaring consumers, and the science is pretty clear on this one. Based on what we know so far, genetically modified seeds, crops or even animals, don't pose a threat to consumer health," he said.

Health Canada doesn't require labelling on GM food, saying grocery items are assessed according to safety and nutritional standards before they go to market. To date, the public health department has not turned down any applications for genetically modified foods, according to its website.



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